I first met Jim through political science (and through Pat Moynihan), but I was blessed as well to have him as a colleague because he chaired the Council of Academic Advisers here at the American Enterprise Institute.
Jim was a role model to me and to many others for many reasons. He was first and foremost a scholar, but he also was delighted to engage in the rough-and-tumble of debates about policy issues, and his insights, and analysis of data, helped to shape views and policy in many areas, especially crime control.
Jim’s effect on ideas and policy did not come from a bombastic or charismatic personality but rather from the power of his ideas and his ability to marshal them, to understand and analyze the data, and then to suggest policies that would flow from them. He was successful enough as a public intellectual that his obituary was featured on the front page of the New York Times — how many social scientists could achieve that?
Through his books on bureaucracy and American government, and many essays on politics, Jim showed a command of the nuances of politics and institutions, amplified by his grasp of history and the Constitution.
His conservatism grew stronger over the years, but Jim was never an ideologue who would bend facts to fit theories; he developed and expanded theories that meshed with facts and analyzed reality, not a wishful view of it. I used to say that when I grow up, I want to be like Jim. I have grown up and have not come within striking distance. But I can take comfort from the fact that few others, if any, have or will.
I write now about both of these men in part because in this time of deep dysfunction inside Congress and in our broader political discourse, their passing is even more lamented, but also because their lives still provide models we can aspire to achieve and can measure our political actors and public figures against.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.